The First Sea Battle of Chinese Naval Powers

In 485 BC, there was the first sea battle in Chinese naval history. Most Westerners probably don’t know about this battle. They may know that five years later, in 480 BC, there was a great sea battle between Greece and Persia, called the battle of Salamis.

The first sea battle of Chinese history was between the Qi (齐) State and the Wu (吳) State in the last days of the Spring-Autumn Period. The Qi State was located in the northern part of modern-day Shandong Province. Wu State was located in modern-day Jiangsu Province. The two countries were near sea, and they were good at navigation. The Qi State built the Silk Road by sea, and colonized abroad. Wu State often fought against the Chu (楚) State in the rivers of the south. In the last days of the Spring-Autumn Period, the Chu State was defeated utterly, and the Wu State started to covet the hegemony of the Central Plains (中原). At that time, the Jin (晋) State, the strong country of the Central Xia (中夏), was the ally of the Wu State. Its enemy, the Qi State which was the strong country of the Eastern Xia (东夏) and the ally of the Chu State, was the object that the Wu State decided to defeat.

In 490 BC, Qi Jing-Gong (齐景公), an excellent monarch who had been ruling for 58 years in the Qi State, died. Later, there was civil strife in the Qi State. When Qi Dao-Gong (齐悼公) ascended the throne, he ordered his army to attack Lu (魯) State and he asked Wu State for military aid. However, Qi State and the Lu State made peaceful terms soon so Qi Dao-Gong sent an envoy to the Wu State and decline the military aid. Fuchai (夫差), the king of the Wu State, became angry. He allied with the monarchs of Lu State, Zhu (邾) State and Tan (郯) State. In 485 BC, they led armies to attack Qi State. In order to please the allied states, Tian Qi (田乞), a minister who was in power in the Qi State, killed Qi Dao-Gong and told the news to Fuchai. Fuchai was a straightforward man. When he heard his opponent died so tragically, he wept for Qi Dao-Gong outside the gate of barrack in three days. The land army of Fuchai and his allies stopped attacking, but he designed a shrewd plan. He secretly ordered his navy to support him by coordinated action.

Xu Cheng (徐承), the commander of the navy of the Wu State, led the navy to leave the naval base of the Yangtse River. The navy passed through the sea outfall and entered the East China Sea. They navigated northwards along the coastline of the East Sea. The intelligence agents of the Qi State found the unusual redeployment of the navy of Wu State. They reported the information to their country at once. The generals of Qi State decided to intercept the navy of Wu. The navy of Qi State left the naval port which was in the Bo Sea (渤海) and entered the Yellow Sea. The navy of Qi was deployed in the offing of the Yellow Sea and waited for the navy of Wu. When the navy of the Wu State arrived at the area, they found there were battleships of the Qi State everywhere. The battleships of Wu State had to meet enemy head-on. After a long-distance navigation, the naval troops of Wu State were very tired. However, the naval troops of the Qi State were energetic and combative. The navy of Wu was decisively defeated. When Fuchai heard the bad news that his navy was defeated, he had to withdraw his land armies and his allies.

There were not many details about the first sea battle of Chinese naval history. In ancient China, the navy was often subordinate to the land army. Also, China did not want to be a sea power but rather mainly attached more importance to the land forces. Because of this reasoning, the strategy of seeking the maritime hegemony of the Pre-Qin Era couldn’t be inherited by later dynasties, so in Chinese history, sea battles were not many.

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